In May, MediaNomics
reported that the networks had abandoned any skepticism about the
budget agreement between Congress and the White House. In fact, to
describe the deal they often used the same language ("historic," "a
breakthrough," "a landmark") as those they were covering.
In late July and early
August, as the agreement was actually passed by Congress and signed
by the President, network reporters became a bit more aggressive.
Still, there were some facts about the deal that network news
viewers didn't learn:
The federal budget would
have been closer to balance next year without the budget deal.
In an August 15 Washington Times column Bruce Bartlett, a senior
fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, pointed out
that "Congress was forced to add more than $100 billion in new
spending to the budget in order to buy Bill Clinton's signature on
the tax cut. The spending increases include $24 billion for a new
health insurance program for children and $15.5 billion in
additional welfare benefits. As a consequence, the federal budget
deficit next year actually will be higher than it would have been
without the budget deal." No network evening news budget report
Congress and the
President put off tough choices for a future Congress and President.
"Meanwhile," Bartlett added, "the balanced budget in the year 2002
that everyone is so keen on celebrating is critically dependent on
$97 billion in spending cuts that do not take effect until that
NBC's Lisa Myers, on the
July 28 Nightly News, filed the only network evening news report
mentioning that most of the spending cuts in the plan wouldn't be
enacted until after the year 2000.
This budget deal
undermines last year's welfare reform. An August 12 Investor's
Business Daily editorial pointed out that the budget deal adds
billions in new spending over the next five years on elderly and
disabled immigrants. This, IBD argued, "will revive a benefit widely
abused by families who are far from poor, and it will leave less
money for the welfare-to-work programs at the heart of [last year's]
The budget deal also
includes a provision that would force all of the normal mandated
benefits onto employers who hire welfare recipients. This will price
many welfare recipients out of the job market, forcing the
government to create make-work jobs for them. Florida Democratic
Governor Lawton Chiles told IBD: "To spend our money (to meet this
provision) is to take some people away from the chance to get a
job." No network evening news budget report mentioned this.
One thing all of the
networks mentioned, though, was that this budget does nothing to
reform the long-term structural problems of entitlement programs.
In May MediaNomics pointed
out that CNN's Frank Sesno was the only network journalist to report
that because of the baby boom generation, it will take two workers
to support every retiree in 2025 while it took five workers to
support a retiree in 1960.
He said Social Security and
Medicare, "left alone, will explode early in the next century, and
this new budget does not put the pin back in the grenade" and that
in the next century "those big deficits could be back again times
This time around, ABC's
John Cochran, on the July 29 World News Tonight, CBS's Eric Engberg,
on the July 29 CBS Evening News, and NBC's David Bloom, on the July
29 Nightly News, did comprehensive reports on this important issue.
Because of these three
reporters, as well as Lisa Myers, network budget reporting improved
during late July and early August, but because of many missing
facts, viewers remained largely uninformed about the budget deal.